Get your kicks on Route 66

I drove 2,761 miles from Miami to Los Angeles, without incident or injury or infraction. But that fun fact doesn’t matter to the California Department of Motor Vehicles, because they still made me take a written test to get my driver’s license.

ROADTRIP

I arrived at the DMV and took my seat next to a seventeen year old with a uni-brow as wide as his braces-filled smile and a woman who was the spitting image of Rihanna, complete with a serious case of bitchy resting face and a pair of oversize Chanel sunglasses.

Who knows? Maybe it was her. The DMV is the universal equalizer in that everyone, no matter who they are, waits.

While I waited, I read through the driver’s handbook. Well, more like flipped through it in disgust, like it was a magazine recovered from the office of that dentist that killed Cecil the lion.

Page after page of diagrams and traffic signs, but zero information on what to do when the asphalt starts to melt while you’re driving through the desert under an unforgiving sun. There was also nothing in there about how to pee on the side of the road when you’re in a two-hour traffic jam under a torrential downpour. And absolutely no information on the legality of driving without pants as long as you have sensible underwear on.

So, I jotted down some sample test questions in the hopes that the DMV would consider including these in the next issue of the California Driving Handbook. They are as follow:

  1. Who should have ultimate control of the car radio?
    1. The Driver
    2. The Passenger
    3. None of the above because you have satellite radio and the mountains will block the signal
  2. When changing lanes…
    1. Don’t
    2. If you do, you’ll die
    3. Close your eyes and wish for the best
  3. The best way to learn how to drive in the state of California is to…
    1. Rent a Toyota Yaris and floor it to 30 mph on the 405 Freeway
    2. Drive from Huntington Beach to San Francisco up the Pacific Coast Highway
    3. Park your car in front of a wall and stare at said wall for two hours
  4. Upon hearing that a bridge has collapsed and has caused the shutdown of all east- and west-bound traffic on I-10, you should…
    1. Cry just enough to release some tension
    2. Join the Mexican family for dinner, who have set up a folding table and chairs in the middle of the Interstate
    3. Relieve yourself inside your car by carefully aiming your urine into the dog’s portable food bowl
    4. Make a 14-point turn and drive in the wrong direction on the shoulder of I-10 until you are able to cut across three lanes of stalled traffic and a muddy median.

Before I got any further in my DMV brainstorm, my number was called. I took my test and passed with flying colors despite my lack of interest in the subject matter. A huge accomplishment that the 37-year-old-me got to rub in the face of the 15-year-old-me who failed the written test 3 times back in Florida.

Instead of gloating all the way to the photo backdrop, I wish I would’ve paid attention to what I looked like before I posed. In California, they don’t immediately give you your license, but I did take a peak of the photo…and it’s a doozy. Until it arrives in the mail, you’ll just have to take my word for it with this very accurate recreation:

FullSizeRender

And if you’ve ever wondered what you’ll see when driving cross country, these are a few of my favorites:

Farewell transmission

In a few weeks, I will embark on my most ambitious road trip thus far: An epic 40-hour, 2,700-mile journey from Miami to Los Angeles  — in a Fiat.

It is not the actual driving that will be my biggest challenge. Nor the inevitable lull in conversation, the ill-timed bathroom stops or the passive-aggressive “go ahead and play your music” that will break me. It is the fact that the car — the brand new, 7-month-old car — is already broken.

Bro-ken.

I had envisioned all sorts of  plot twists in my personal Cannonball Run movie, from getting pulled over to getting lost, but in every scenario, I imagined getting out of these messes with my Burt Reynolds-like charm (and mustache).

Yet, the thought of being stranded while driving through northern Florida, the southern tip of Alabama, and all of Louisiana, Texas and Arizona (or the states otherwise known as the places least qualified to handle a temperamental Italian Fiat driven by newlywed lesbians that are legal latinas in possession of a hairless dog from China) is making me rethink this whole adventure.

I was counting on my Fiat to whisk me through the deep South with little-to-no fanfare, but now I can’t be sure because the car, as if a perfectly constructed metaphor for the region its driving, only moves in reverse.

GuillermoThat’s right, I have a gearbox problem. More specifically, the problem stems from my 500L’s super fancy Euro twin-clutch, which, as it turns out, is not meant to be driven in heavy traffic, or in extreme weather, or too aggressively or too softly or…well, it’s not meant to be driven at all.

As I’m told, this dual transmission technology is the same system that is used in Ferraris. A fact that I will be sure to share with my car when its feeling bad about its appearance.

“Don’t be sad about your boxy figure Fiat 500L, you are really a Ferrari on the inside.”

I was informed of this ridiculous fact not by the sales guy 7 months ago, but by my service coordinator, Guillermo, who now has to fix my Fiatari. Like that bit of news was somehow supposed to make me feel better. That a group of Italian engineers had the wherewithal of installing the transmission of a Ferrari in a five-door wagon, but not, let’s say, I don’t know, a more comfortable arm rest. These brilliant men (I have full confidence they are all males), have done the equivalent of installing roller skates on a cow.

An analogy I’ll remember when I’m stranded on a dairy farm, pretending that my wife is my sister and my dog is a ferret and my car is a Chrysler.

Unluckily, the last one is not so far from the truth.

fiat

Days go by

One month ago today I was wheeled out of the Georgia Aquarium by two very nice people.

One was a woman named Halle. And although she didn’t do any of the actual “wheeling” she was sympathetic about the symptoms that landed me in the wheelchair. She was also very consumed with the fact that I had only seen two out of the dozen or so exhibitions before my visit was cut short. She was so horrified, in fact, that she insisted on offering me an entrance voucher that I could use for a future visit.

Between winces, I let her know that I had no plans to return. Ever. And she nodded her head and smiled even though I was being unreasonable.

The other was a man named Met – as in I “met” you today, the day your back spasmed so intensely that it numbed your leg and rendered you  paraplegic. I was flat on my back when Met arrived at the scene of my demise. I watched him as he opened and set the locks on the portable wheelchair he brought with him and in doing so, I became hyper-aware of his slim figure. The difference between him and that chair was at most 100 pounds, quite possibly the same difference between us.

When he helped me into the chair it was as graceful as accommodating the Stay Puft Marshmallow Man into a baby seat, but he didn’t once complain or, worse, call back up. And it would’ve been less embarrassing if he would’ve taken a running start to push me, instead of having to incline his body so steeply that he could’ve been a back-up dancer for the Smooth Criminal video, but nonetheless he got me rolling.

He was soft spoken and reassuring. He even tried to make small talk about CSI: Miami when he discovered where I was from. And when I reduced his favorite TV show to an hour-long waste of time, he found it in his heart to forgive my rudeness.

I meant to send them thank you cards. I even meant to send a letter to the Georgia Aquarium commending them on their quick response to my collapse while attempting to crawl through the tube inside the penguin exhibit (because looking at them through the wall-to-wall glass was simply not good enough). I never got to writing those letters. Not because I changed my mind on their merit. And it wasn’t due to a lack of time, as I was confined to a bed for 48 hours after the incident. It was because of the calendar date it happened. It’s the time of year I always want to move on from as soon as possible.

One month ago today was Christmas Day.

To the world I roll my eyes at their Secret Santa’s and scoff at their candy canes, but at home I listen to holiday music ad nauseam and watch “A Charlie Brown Christmas,” because I secretly love that stupid holiday. And right as the big day nears, I skip town on my yearly Christmas vacation. From London to New Orleans to Montreal to this year’s southern militia tour, these adventures bring me joy, not only because I love to travel, but also because I am not home to remember that my father is missing.

Well, he’s not missing exactly. I know where his remains are. They’ve been interred in Woodlawn Cemetery for a decade now. He passed a few days before Christmas ten years ago, which is exactly the amount of time I’ve been running from his memory.

Only this Christmas, the son of a bitch found me in Atlanta. Haunting me with this terrible back spasm – the same kind that would attack him and leave him paralyzed for days. The same kind of pain that would force him to find comfort in all sorts of mentholated ointments and pain pills – the same scents and brands that were now spread throughout my hotel room.

In a moment of weakness, while my loving partner was on her third run to the local Walgreens, I spoke to him.

“Sorry I made fun of your Craftmatic Adjustable Bed,” I said loudly and across the room where I imagined his ghost would be sitting. “I get it now. Back pain is the worst.”

I didn’t get a response. The television didn’t turn on. The lights didn’t flicker. The toilet didn’t flush. Although, I think if any of those things would’ve happened, I would’ve busted out of that room screaming despite the back pain.

The only special thing that did happened was that I finally allowed myself to miss him. And, in a very strange way, I was able to spend Christmas with him one more time.